Suburban charm and urban culture coalesce in this south Chicago neighborhood. Dripping with history, civic pride and diversity, Calumet Heights offers an oasis for families and residents from all walks of life. Rows of brick bungalows rest on green lots edged by towering trees and well-kept sidewalks, the perfect place to learn to ride a bike or walk the dog. Almost exclusively residential, save for a couple pizzerias and your typical comfort food diner, Calumet Heights offers affordable real estate to buy a family home with outdoor space and room to grow.
Calumet Heights Facts
Location: About 13 miles south of the Loop
Boundaries: 87th Street to the north, the Chicago Skyway (I-90) to the east, 95th Street to the south and a large rail yard to the west
Then and Now
This area was formally home to Lake Michigan’s great ancestor—Lake Chicago. Few people realize that thousands of years ago, a glacially formed, prehistoric lake much larger than any of our Great Lakes covered much of Illinois and northern Indiana, including all of the present-day city of Chicago.
Ready for a little geography lesson? The lake was formed by the Wisconsin Glacier, a historical glacier that was responsible for altering much of North America’s topography. As the glacier retreated from the Midwest due to the warming of the Earth’s crust, its waters found other outlets in Niagara Falls and the Ohio River, and the levels of Lake Chicago began to drop dramatically. The resulting swampland retained many prehistoric elements of the glacier’s presence (as well as fossilized evidence of the sea that existed before the glacier, but that’s a whole other history lesson). Nevertheless, due to its marshy nature, the area remained barren for some time after much of the rest of Illinois had been settled.
During the 19th century many travelers passed through the swampy area that was to someday become Calumet Heights. The location, a sparsely populated portion of the incorporated Township of Hyde Park, seemed ripe with potential to the Calumet and Chicago Canal & Dock Company, who acquired the property in the 1870s. But since they had no idea what to do with it, the region remained largely desolate until 1881, when the New York, Chicago & St. Louis railroad lines built yards along the western edge of the area. As has been evident throughout American history, with trains come people, and it didn’t take long for a small settlement to sprout along the side of the tracks here, too. Shortly thereafter, ground was broken in a quarry near 92nd Street, and still more settlers arrived on the scene to lay claim to the new work load.
When a portion of the area was purchased by Samual E. Gross—then widely considered to be the P. T. Barnum of subdivided working class communities—it was apparent that something huge was on the horizon for the long-overlooked settlement just southeast of Chicago. The year was 1887, and by 1890 the new subdivision—aptly named Calumet Heights after the nearby Calumet River and the ridge of Niagara limestone quarried in the vicinity—was folded into the city of Chicago as part of the annexation of the Hyde Park Township.
Despite the sparkling new moniker and official Chicago neighborhood designation, it would take three more decades for Calumet Heights realize its full residential potential. In 1920, the neighborhood was home to just over three thousand inhabitants, most of them foreign-born. By the end of that decade, the population surged with the influx of many Italians, Irish, Poles, and Yugoslavians seeking a better economic situation for their families. Subsequently, Calumet Heights experienced a housing boom during which many of the residential homes still standing today were built. The construction was steady and swift, until the Great Depression in 1929 brought most building projects to a stand-still.
Thankfully, the post-WWII era ushered in a renewed interest in housing development to the area. Residential developments that had been on hold for years were completed and a shopping area was established in the neighborhood. Even the 92nd Street quarry was filled in to supply additional ground for constructing more new homes. By 1960, there were nearly 20,000 residents in Calumet Heights. It was during the coming decades that the demographics of the south side Chicago neighborhood shifted dramatically. A 1960 census report shows that over 99 percent of residents were white (mostly first or second generation European immigrants), but the census report of 1990 saw that number drop to just 3.9 percent, with African Americans checking in at over 92 percent. Backtracking back to the 1960s, many Chicago families were interested in moving up. The white, upper-middle-class Calumet Heights families started moving into bigger houses in nearby suburbs, while the lower-middle class African-American families began moving from other south side neighborhoods to the idyllic Calumet Heights community. This change was gradual and organic until 1968, when a nationwide string of race riots in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King hit Chicago close to home in the city’s west side riots. After this, African American families that could afford it fled to safer environs in Chicago, like Calumet Heights, and the white families that could afford to fled the city altogether.
Today, Calumet Heights is very true to its middle-class roots, and is still a picturesque family-oriented neighborhood. Still predominantly African-American, the area is diversifying again with a recent boom in Latin-American families.
After the post-war surge in building, it became apparent to the Chicago Park District that a neighborhood with so many families really ought to have a park. In 1947, the Park District acquired more than seventeen acres to begin the construction of what was then Stony Island Park, now called Owens Park (the name was changed in the 1980s). The park’s new namesake, Olympic athlete Jesse Owens—having served as the director of the Chicago Boys Club, the Illinois State Athletic Commission and the Illinois Youth Commission—was very devoted to children, athletics and the city of Chicago. And by the looks of it, this Calumet Heights park does right by the star track and fielder with a soft spot for inner-city kids.
During the dog days of summer, there’s nothing better than running through a spray pool—which is where the little ones spend much of their time—but there are plenty of other activities at Owens Park for people of all ages and abilities. A heated game on one of the baseball diamonds or tennis courts is sure to help Calumet Heighters work up a sweat, and there is a lovely walking trail nearly three-fourths of a mile long, perfect for finally taking those morning jogs that always seem to make it into our yearly resolutions. Parents will love that the fieldhouse here offers several supervised summer camp programs for children ages 6-12, and the kids will love that sports, arts, crafts, and plenty of fieldtrips are always on the agenda, providing fun alternatives to staying with a babysitter at home.
Calumet Heights Real Estate
This lovely southeast Chicago neighborhood is an idyllic place to raise a family or buy a first home. With a gorgeous park, plenty of shopping options and even a hospital nearby, Calumet Heights more closely resembles a serene suburb than a south Chicago neighborhood.
Like many neighborhoods with a suburban-vibe, front yards in Calumet Heights tend to be pristine and well-maintained. Streets are wide, landscaped and in great condition. Sidewalks provide safe walking and bike riding space for children. The sizeable backyards are just right for summertime barbeques or outdoor birthday parties. And we don’t even mind when winter rolls around because that means carefully crafted snowforts and the ultimate in snowball fights. The homes themselves are each unique, but together they make up lovely, picturesque rows. Apartments and condominiums are largely located in lovingly preserved brick buildings, adding to the architectural beauty and diversity of the neighborhood.
Many of the residences in this predominately middle-class neighborhood are single-family dwellings that rest on green lots edged by towering trees and property-separating bushes. Bungalows, two-stories, split-levels, and ranches abound. There are also several mid-rise residential buildings, vintage courtyard condos and stately townhomes, some with all the quaintness of exterior lampposts and colorful flowerbeds.
Price-wise Calumet Heights is also diverse, with some of the larger (four to six bedroom) homes costing as much as $800,000. However, there are plenty of very nice, decent-sized houses in the upper $100,000s to mid-$500,000s range as well. Many of the two-bedroom condos in Calumet Heights sell for around $50,000, while other newer or renovated condominiums can cost up to $400,000 for a three-bedroom place.
What’s on the Menu?
Folks down here certainly have a southern way of eating. Home-made and family-friendly, casual American fare proudly presides over the culinary side of this Chicago neighborhood.
Calumet Heights residents needn’t look far for superior down-home food at affordable prices. In fact, they just need to look to Chicago’s own Soul Queen, who opened up her Soul Queen Restaurant (9031 S Stony Island Ave., 773-731-3366) in this disparate south Chicago neighborhood in 1975. Community leader Helen Maybell Anglin has been putting the soul in soul food for well over thirty years with her well-known Calumet Heights eatery. This strong-willed, dedicated south side resident is active in the N.A.A.C.P., League of Black Women Voters, and is a board member of the PUSH foundation. Oprah adores her and Mayor Daly dutifully sings her praises, but it’s the civil rights movement that truly gave Anglin her fire. Having fed notable national leaders Jesse Jackson, Harold Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Anglin was also a staunch supporter of all three men and the movement they represented. Photos of her involvement in the Civil Rights movement line the walls of this restaurant, but the true story here is the delectable cuisine. Brilliantly serving up real food in a buffet setting, patrons are able to load up on home-cooked favorites like barbequed ribs, succotash, macaroni and cheese, potato salad and the best fried chicken this side of the Mason-Dixon, all for under eight bucks a head.
When your waistline needs a break from the Soul Queen’s delicious grub, you can head to Leona’s Pizza (9156 S Stony Island Ave., 773-374-9100) for some Chicago-style eats. Leona’s, the small family-run Chicago chain, serves only real foods that are non-GMO (not genetically modified) and organic when possible. What’s not to like about that philosophy? Italian-American fare in enormous portions reigns supreme at Leona’s, and most people keep coming back for the outstanding pizza. We love the 14-minute buffalo wings, which are made from fresh chicken on the spot, never frozen from a bag. The "psychedelic salad" is chockfull of everything imaginable, and the soups are whole, hearty, and organic, of course. Still, it’s the dessert menu that makes this a Calumet Heights family favorite, with plenty of decadent takes on pie and cake for the adults, and a sundae selection for the kiddies (or the adults that just want to feel like kids again).
Night on the Town
Calumet Heights isn’t exactly a swinging night spot by Chicago standards, but broad daylight is another story, altogether.
It’s not unusual to hear a hodgepodge of R&B and soul cuts from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s seeping through the air along Stony Island Avenue during the evening, but you’ll find the music begins during the afternoon hours. That’s just the Family Den Lounge (8942 S Stony Island Ave, 773-734-8545), a quirky establishment that serves up bar food, cheap drinks, and sophisticated tunes to patrons in the thirty-plus age range. Sorry twenty-somethings, this is one bar your 21st birthday does not grant you access to. Because of the bizarre age limitations, the crowd here tends to be low-key, laid-back, and willing to cut a rug. In fact, Family Den offers a Steppers Brunch for people who like a little wiggle between mimosas.
Calumet Heights might seem like a suburb, but all of the convenience of Chicago’s vast public transportation system is available right here.
For train enthusiasts, we recommend the Red Line "El" (so-named for its segments of elevated tracks). The 87th Street stop and the end-of-the-line 95th/Dan Ryan station are both located within an easy bus trip to all parts of the Calumet Heights neighborhood. Just hop on the #87 bus along 87th Street, which goes as far east as the lakeshore and as far west as the Chicago suburbs, making a convenient pass by the "El" stop as well. If the lake is your destination, you can take the #95E east to the water, but make sure you are headed in the right direction, otherwise this route will take you as far west as Evergreen Park. Getting back to the Red Line train, it connects to the Loop, where you can transfer to all other CTA trains in Chicago, or you can continue north to Howard. So basically, you get citywide access while living it up in the low-key environs of this southern Chicago neighborhood.
If you’re a little claustrophobic and would prefer to go above ground for your entire commute, the #28, and #28X bus lines run up Stony Island Avenue, as does Jeffrey Avenue’s #14 bus, which all connect to Lake Shore Drive, making their way toward the Loop.
Calumet Heights residents who own cars love the location, nestled between the Chicago Skyway (I-90) and the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-94), which makes getting to the city, to either of the airports, or out of town a breeze. An added bonus for vehicle owners: There is plenty of street parking available within the neighborhood, and many homes include attached garages, so no nightmares of overpriced parking tickets or waking up to find your car has been towed.
School’s in Session
Families will love that the primary schools in Calumet Heights feature all of the benefits of suburban school systems, but with the cultural flair and diversity of city public schools. In addition to the following list, you can find more information on Chicago area schools at our Chicago Guide Schools page.
Black Magnet Elementary School – 9101 S Euclid Ave – (773) 535-6390
Buckingham Special Education – 9207 S Phillips Ave – (773) 535-6422
Thomas Hoyne Elementary School – 8905 S Crandon Ave – (773) 535-6425
Whether you’re in the mood for fried catfish or a midday dance party, you’ll need to know where the goods are in Calumet Heights. We’ve compiled a neighborhood primer to get you started.
Chicago Transit Authority – (888) 968-7282
CVS Pharmacy – 8712 S Stony Island Ave – (773) 933-9200
Fay’s – 1627 E 87th St – (773) 731-8709
Helen Kay, Inc. – 1719 E 87th St – (773) 375-3643
Maxine’s Beauty Magic Boutique – 1613 E 87th St – (773) 221-8308
Mister Kay’s - 1719 E 87th St - (773) 221-5297
Two of Us – 1743 E 87th St – (773) 768-3191
Alligator Joe’s Seafood Restaurant – 1938 E 95th St – (773) 731-0229
BJ’s Market & Bakery – 8734 S Stony Island Ave – (773) 374-4700
Family Den – 8942 S Stony Island Ave – (773) 734-8545
Soul Queen Restaurant – 9031 S Stony Island Ave – (773) 731-3366
Thomas’ Restaurant – 1657 E 87th St – (773) 731-8227
Chan’s Kitchen – 1934 E 95th St – (773) 734-9880
Leona’s Pizza – 9156 S Stony Island Ave – (773) 374-9100
Pizza Hut – 8849 S Stony Island Ave – (773) 721-3933
Sometimes it makes more sense to view the city of Chicago as a bunch of separate neighborhoods, especially when it comes to real estate. Whether you are in the market for a loft, condo, townhome, or house, it is just as important to inspect the surrounding area as it is to inspect the home’s foundation. Calumet Heights neighborhood is just one Chicago community with an abundance of residential properties, and a life all its own. From where you send your kids to school to where you dine at night, the information we provide is an essential piece of the puzzle when you’re trying to decide whether or not to buy that beautiful loft or adorable house in Calumet Heights.